I am not the eighth son of an eighth son; being so would make me a wizard, which I am not. However, certain quirks of the family tree allow me to travel closer to history than might be expected.
My grandfathers both died before I turned five.
I vaguely remember arguing with my cousin Nathaniel over who got to lock the casket at Grandpa Charlie’s funeral. Grandpa Charlie was Mom’s dad. I don’t even know if I called him Grandpa Charlie – his name was Charles. Maybe I think he went by Charlie because my oldest brother goes by Charlie. I’m certain Mom must have said something once or twice. Probably more. My fault for not listening.
Grandpa John remains an enigma. Did I call him Papa John, or am I confusing him with the pizza place? Maybe it was Pop? Names are familiar, but I can’t place them. My memory doesn’t go that far back.
Sometimes I think I can remember sitting in his lap after church on Sunday. His hands are rough; he smells faintly of tobacco – improbable, as Grandpa gave up smoking sometime around 1947, or so Dad says. The smell is likely a false memory planted by the discovery of pipes and tobacco one summer back in the 90s while preparing one of Grandma’s yard sales.
My parents gave me this:
It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.
Well, he didn’t really say that because my father is not William Faulkner. But I said it to myself in my mind. What Dad actually said was
Take that to a good jeweler; get it cleaned and see if they can appraise it, maybe get it running.
Thing is, I’m not sure I want to do those things.
This is my connection to a man I never knew.
The patina of years carries my father and his father before him.
Can I wipe them away?
Is it for me to start stopped hands?
I cannot say.